Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Maestri says levee fix cannot be accomplished in time by the corps

Maestri doubts that the Corps can fulfill its pledge of rebuilding the levees to withstand a Category 3 hurricane by next spring. His distrust stems partly from engineering reasons, and partly from the Corps' history. The Army Corps took decades to design and build the New Orleans levee system -- and that system failed in spectacular ways. Given that fact, Maestri questions how the Corps can assert that they already know how to fix those past mistakes. Pointing to a new steel wall that the Corps is erecting along the 17th Street Canal, Maestri notes that similar walls crumpled like tin foil during Katrina along other parts of the levee.

"We really felt all along that the Corps was a group that we could absolutely trust," Maestri says. "They wouldn't do sloppy work, or allow sloppy work. They realized that this community basically lives and dies on the strength of those levees. Now, what's happened -- it's like finding out that your mother lied to you all the years of your life."

Paul Kemp, a scientist with the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University, says he doesn't trust the Corps' promises, either. Kemp and his team did some of the first studies after Katrina that showed that levees broke even when the water wasn't high enough to go over them.

Kemp says that the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a shipping channel that connects New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico, presents one of the biggest challenges for the Corps. The outlet is lined with earthen levees. They were once 18 feet high. Now, they are a flat plain of mud. They look like an endless row of hills that some giant has squashed.

No comments: